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Big Guns in the Big Sky

Ogden, UT (Sports Network) - The Big Sky Conference will not be short on offensive firepower this coming season. From the top down, the conference is laden with talented, proven, and productive offensive threats.

Preseason favorite Montana boasts two Walter Payton Award watch lists members. Running back Chase Reynolds was a finalist in 2009, finishing 13th in the voting. A senior, Reynolds has rushed for 3,075 yards and 44 touchdowns over the last two seasons.

Joining Reynolds on the Payton watch list is senior quarterback Andrew Selle. Selle manned an offense which finished first in the Big Sky in scoring last season. He threw for 3,043 yards, 28 touchdowns and just six interceptions, while leading the conference in passing efficiency.

Despite those gaudy numbers, first year head coach Robin Pflugrad describes himself as "cautiously optimistic" about his team's prospects this season. To Pflugrad, roster turnover is the main cause for concern. Most notably, the Grizzlies are without First Team All-American wide receiver Marc Mariani, who recently took his talents to the NFL's Tennessee Titans. Also gone are key offensive line components Levi Horn and Chris Dyke. In speaking of his team's inexperience, Pflugrad says, "We have some guys who haven't been in the war together."

Three Key Games
Montana at Eastern Washington, Sept. 13 - Numbers 1 and 2 repectively in both the Preseason Coaches' Poll and Preseason Media Poll square off in Cheyney, Washington. Montana ousted Eastern Washington 41-34 last season, but will the Eagles' new red turf prove to be a decided advantage?

Northern Arizona at Montana, Oct. 23 - Northern Arizona provided Montana with their toughest challenge of the regular season last year. Montana barely escaped with a 42-35 thrilling overtime win. Could significant turnover in the Grizzlies' lineup prove to be the difference in 2010?

Weber State at Northern Arizona, Nov. 13 - This one goes out to all you high-octane offense junkies out there. Standout senior quarterbacks Michael Herrick of Northern Arizona and Cameron Higgins of Weber State square off in this late season match-up. The game could prove to have FCS playoff implications for both teams.


Still, as the battle for the Big Sky title nears commencement, Montana appears poised to prevail. The going may get tough however, as many teams in the conference have weapons to burn.

Montana first runs into a stalwart Big Sky gun when they visit Eastern Washington on September 18th. Waiting on EWU's new red turf will be the Eagles' own Payton watch member, Taiwan Jones.

Says Pflugrad of Jones, "When he turns the corner we don't have anyone that can catch him." The numbers bear this out. In 2009, Jones averaged 7.5 yards per carry and scored 15 touchdowns. Originally a cornerback, Jones also proved to be a dual threat for Eastern Washington, catching 40 passes for 561 yards.

Perhaps the biggest threat facing any Big Sky defense this year is Northern Arizona senior quarterback Michael Herrick. Herrick, a Payton nominee, has also been named first-team preseason all-conference. Herrick had a sensational year in 2009, completing 66.3 percent of his passes for 3,356 yards and 22 touchdowns. Sure to add quake to defensive coordinators' kneecaps is the word out of Flagstaff that Herrick appears to have improved his accuracy leading into the 2010 season.

Not to be outdone, senior Weber State quarterback Cameron Higgins will look to create some fireworks of his own. Higgins has been a candidate for the Walter Payton Award each of the past two seasons. He has also guided Weber State to two consecutive FCS playoff births. Higgins will meet Herrick on November 13, in Flagstaff. The meeting is sure to be a summit of gunslinging prowess.

In all, it appears there are many gunners aiming for the well-adorned bull's eye on Montana's back. With the Grizzlies facing some significant question marks, the battle for the Big Sky could come down to who has the biggest weapon to hit that target.

2010 Preseason Conference Poll (coaches and media)

1. Montana
2. Eastern Washington
3. Montana State
4. Weber State
5. Northern Arizona
6. Sacramento State
7. Northern Colorado
8. Portland State
9. Idaho State

PRESEASON BIG SKY ALL-CONFERENCE TEAM

Offensive Player of the Year - Chase Reynolds, RB, Montana

Defensive Player of the Year - J. C. Sherritt, LB, Eastern Washington

Offense

OL
Mike Person, Montana State
Jon Opperud, Montana
Alex Verlanic, Montana
J. C. Oram, Weber State
Kris Poindexter, Northern Arizona

RB
Chase Reynolds, Montana
Taiwan Jones, Eastern Washington

WR
Brandyn Reed, Sacramento State
Everett Gilbert, Montana State
Mike Phillips, Weber State

TE
Kyle Begger

QB
Michael Herrick, Northern Arizona

Defense

DL
Issac Bond, Northern Arizona
Nick Hernon, Northern Colorado
Dan Ogden, Montana State
Renard Williams, Eastern Washington
Christian Clark, Sacramento State

LB
A. J. Storms, Idaho State
Taylor Sedillo, Weber State
John Eddy, Northern Colorado
J. C. Sherritt, Eastern Washington

DB
Korey Askew, Northern Colorado
Trumaine Johnson, Montana
Matt Estrada, Northen Arizona
Zach Schrader, Sacramento State

Specialists

PK
Zach Brown, Portland State

P
Augie Heath, Sacramento State

RS
Jabin Sambrano, Montana

ST
Tanner Ripley, Montana State

By Andrew Gaddess, FCS Contributing Editor


Southwestern Athletic Conference
Media Day - July 20

Big Sky Conference
Media Day - July 20

Ohio Valley Conference
Media Day - July 26

Southern Conference
Media Day - July 27

Colonial Athletic Association
Media Day - July 28

Southland Conference
Media Day - July 28

Big South Conference
Media Day - July 29

Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference
Media Day - July 30

Missouri Valley Conference
Media Day - August 2

Patriot League
Media Day - August 3

Northeast Conference
Media Day - August 4

Pioneer Conference
Media Day - August 9

Ivy League
Media Day - August 10

Great West Conference
Media Day - August 11



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